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October 28, 2011

Newcomers spark Heels

The pregame glitz and glamour belonged to the five famous starters for North Carolina, the group that have graced the preseason magazine covers and carried the Tar Heels to the top of most polls.

The large video boards played the pre-game film focusing on Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Dexter Strickland and Kendall Marshall, but then UNC Pembroke proceeded to take a 10-2 lead to start the game.

Then the Braves held the lead, too.

When UNC finally took a 28-27 lead with 6:58 left in the first half, Pembroke came right back and took the lead again.

Finally, Coach Roy Williams went to the end of his bench to get a team that could out-hustle and out-score the Braves.

"I don't think anybody was pleased with the start we got," Williams said. "We fumbled the first [two possessions]. But right before the half, I put in four of the freshman and Reggie [Bullock]. They gave us a great lift. We had a 14-0 run there.

"Early in the second half I put the starters back in and they were so much better defensively."

Stilman White, Hubert Desmond, Jackson Simmons, Bullock and P.J. Harriston did what neither the first- or second-string stars could do: take the lead against Pembroke, hold it and then extend it.

Their spark led to an eventual 100-58 victory for the Tar Heels.

The new kids did it with tenacious defense and the fast breaks everyone expected to see from the starters. All of them got into the act, too.

"I think everybody was a little nervous," Strickland said. "We didn't match their intensity coming out. The second group did a great job of matching their intensity and doing what coach wants.

"The way they passed the ball, P.J. hit big shots, and Reggie made steals and fast-break layups really picked us up."

Hairston made a couple of huge rainbow 3-pointers he became known for in high school and the summer club circuit. Bullock, returning from a knee injury that cost him last season, played fierce defense and ran the court to finish off the steals.

"[Hairston] is a great addition to the team," Strickland said. "His ability to shoot and to get to the rim and rebound, his athleticism is a great addition to the team."

The crowd favorite, however, was clearly Stilman, who stole the ball once and drove it in for a layup. Another time, he dribbled from the top of the key and fed Hairston on the wing for one of his threes.

Hairston finished the game 6-of-8 from the field, making 4-of-6 3-pointers. He scored 17, just one behind a team-leading 18 from Zeller. Zeller also led the team with 11 rebounds.

There was another newcomer who made a fine impression. Freshman James Michael McAdoo could have been drawn on an architect's board as the ideal basketball player.

He epitomizes this entire team with his length. His shoulders are broad and huge. He attacks the bucket when he gets the ball and fights for rebounds. He is going to be a star if he hangs around Carolina long enough.

What this game showed is just how rich the depth of talent this Carolina team possesses. It's a huge team, and not just the front line guys.

Bullock is 6 foot 7, but his reach is beyond that. The same goes for Hairston. Those are some big, strong guards, both of whom can shoot the ball. Bullock only made 2-of-5 from 3-point range, but it will a surprise if his shooting doesn't come around.

One thing is for certain: No one on this team is going to play harder than Bullock and Hairston. Those two were diving on the floor, leaping out of bounds trying to save loose balls and moving their feet and attacking on defense.

"[The depth of talent] took a little adjusting for me personally," Marshall said, "being out there with a lot of different combination of players. Our depth is very good this year. That will be great for us. Like you saw today, if some players are having a slow start, other players can come in and get it done."


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